Monday, December 06, 2004

California Wildflower Seeding Rates

These rates were calculated from wholesale grower recommendations for per acre seeding rates ... which vary widely species to species because some plants have many seeds small and light, while others yield few seeds large and heavy ... but each seed can produce a plant!

Amounts of viable seed --evenly spread -- to cover the area with plants:

Achillea millefolium, yarrow ------------- one ounce per 2500 square feet, or 0.04 oz per 100 square feet

Baileya multiradiata, desert marigold ----- one ounce per 500 square feet, or 0.20 oz per 100 square feet

Castilleja exserta, purple owl's clover --- one ounce per 2500 square feet, or 0.04 oz per 100 square feet

Clarkia amoena, farewell-to-spring ------ one ounce per 1250 square feet, or 0.08 oz per 100 square feet

Clarkia unguiculata, mountain garland --- one ounce per 1250 square feet, or 0.08 oz per 100 square feet

Collinsia heterophylla, Chinese houses -- one ounce per 400 square feet, or 0.25 oz per 100 square feet

Eschscholzia caespitosa, dwarf California poppy, ounce per 500 square feet or 0.20 oz per 100 square feet

Eschscholzia californica, California poppy, an ounce per 300 square feet, or 0.33 oz per 100 square feet

Gilia capitata, globe gilia ----------------- one ounce per 1250 square feet, or 0.08 oz per 100 square feet

Gilia tricolor, bird's-eyes ---------------- one ounce per 1250 square feet , or 0.08 oz per 100 square feet

Lasthenia californica, dwarf goldfields --- one ounce per 625 square feet, or 0.16 oz per 100 square feet

Lasthenia glabrata, California sunshine ---- one ounce per 400 square feet, or 0.25 oz per 100 square feet

Layia platyglossa, tidy-tips ---------------- one ounce per 400 square feet, or 0.25 oz per 100 square feet

Linanthus grandiflorus - California phlox -- one ounce per 1250 square feet, or 0.08 oz per 100 square feet

Linum lewisii, blue flax --------------------- one ounce per 300 square feet, or 0.33 oz per 100 square feet

Lupinus bicolor, miniature lupine ----------- one ounce per 175 square feet, or 0.57 oz per 100 square feet

Lupinus densiflorus 'Ed Gedling', golden lupine, an ounce per 75 square feet, or 1.33 oz per 100 square feet

Lupinus nanus, sky lupine ------------------ one ounce per 125 square feet, or 0.80 oz per 100 square feet

Lupinus succulentus, arroyo lupine -------- one ounce per 125 square feet, or 0.80 oz per 100 square feet

Mentzelia lindleyi, blazing star ------------- one ounce per 625 square feet, or 0.16 oz per 100 square feet

Nemophila maculata, five-spot ------------ one ounce per 250 square feet, or 0.40 oz per 100 square feet

Nemophila menziesii, baby-blue-eyes ------ one ounce per 300 square feet, or 0.33 oz per 100 square feet

Phacelia campanularia, desert bluebells --- one ounce per 825 square feet, or 0.12 oz per 100 square feet

Phacelia tanacetifolia, tansy phacelia ------ one ounce per 825 square feet, or 0.12 oz per 100 square feet

Sisyrinchium bellum, blue-eyed grass ------ one ounce per 300 square feet, or 0.33 oz per 100 square feet

Plant Diversity Supports Animal Diversity

I’m interested in understanding the values native plants have for wildlife. The data discussed here was derived from a survey of the larval hosts the microlepidoptera of the San Bruno Mountains on the San Francisco Peninsula. Microlepidoptera are small moths, mostly “leaf miners” -- their tiny caterpillars “mine” tunnels in leaves. Typically, the caterpillars of each species of moth eat particular species of plants. The source paper is “Larval Hosts of the Microlepidoptera of the San Bruno Mountains, California” by John A. Benedictus, David L. Agner, and James B. Whitfield, published in Atala: the Journal of Invertebrate Conservation, published by the Xerces Society.

I “mined” the article to rank the plant species of San Bruno Mountain according to the number of species of microlepidoptera each one supports, with an eye to understanding which plant species support the greatest diversity of animal life.

160 species of leaf miners are listed in the article, with the authors estimating that there are about 300 species present. Many species of leaf miner confine their feeding to only one or a few species of native plants. Thus the diversity of leaf miners is closely tied to the diversity of plants. In general, a diversity of plants supports a diversity of animals.

I listed the plants, tallying the number of species of leaf miner each supports. The researchers had sampled 82 species of plants out of the 540 species present. My theory is that the diversity of leaf miners supported by a given species of plant is an indication of the total diversity of insects that species supports. In England, where biological studies have proceeded more systematically, total numbers of insect species per plant species are much better known than here in California.

The “top end” of my tally list – plant species the researchers found supporting five or more species of microlepidoptera, these:

Larval Host ----- Number of Species of Leaf Miners

Quercus agrifolia – coast live oak -----15
Baccharis pilularis – coyote bush ----- 12
Salix lasiolepis – arroyo willow ----- 12
Ceanothus thyrsiflorus – blue blossom -----10
Monardella villosa – coyote mint ----- 8
Eriogonum latifolium – coast buckwheat ----- 7
Anaphalis margaritacea – pearly everlasting ----- 7
Rhamnus californica – coffeeberry -----7
Eriophyllum staechadifolium – lizard tail ----- 6
Prunus ilicifolia – islay or hollyleaf cherry ----- 6
Holodiscus discolor – creambush or ocean spray ------ 5
Scrophularia californica – figwort ------5
Rubus ursinus – California blackberry ----- 5
Phacelia californica – California phacelia ----- 5
Lupinus arboreus – bush lupine ----- 5

Unidentified cudweeds, Gnaphalium spp., yielded 8 species of leaf miners. A bushtit nest in a creambush yielded 2 additional species of leaf miners – the creambush indirectly “supported” these species! Yet others were discovered in hawk or owl pellets.

Of the 15 species of native plants supporting the greatest diversity of leaf miners in the San Bruno Mountains, one third --5 -- are herbaceous perennials. This is an indicator of the importance of herbaceous perennials for supporting animal diversity.

Many “mitigation” plantings – plantings made to compensate for lost wildlife habitat – have neglected herbaceous perennials. Historically environmental impact reports have generally neglected to quantify the losses of herbaceous perennials and therefore, subsequently, have also neglected them in mitigation revegetation, which generally concentrates on woody plants.

Herbaceous plants are larval hosts for 112 of the 160 known species of microlepidoptera of the San Bruno Mountains. Some leaf miners eat many kinds of plants, both woody and herbaceous, even as other animal life does. Of 82 species of plants listed in the article as larval hosts, 53 were herbaceous and 29 woody. This study and others have convinced me that herbaceous plants make an important contribution to the diversity and abundance of animal life. They should not be neglected in biological impact assessments or mitigation plantings.

“You cannot begin to preserve any species of animal unless you preserve the habitat in which it dwells. Disturb or destroy that habitat or you will exterminate the species as surely as if you had shot it. So conservation means that have to preserve forest and grassland, river and lake, even the sea itself. This is vital not only for the preservation of animal life generally, but for the future existence of man himself—a point that seems to escape many people.”
---- Gerald Durrell,
Nature Conservancy

Earlier versions of this article appeared in the newsletters of the Santa Clara Valley and San Francisco chapters of the California Native Plant Society, many years ago.

Native Plants for a Beautiful and Meaningful Garden

In many ways, native plants lend themselves to creating beauty and meaningfulness in the garden! Are not gardens, at best, created for beauty and meaningfulness? Beauty and meaningfulness are closely allied.

1.The natives of a circumscribed area --as opposed to the bewildering array of all the possible plants that might be cultivated on a site -- comprise a more easily mastered set of "likely suspects" for garden use. In the case of natives those "likely suspects" can be more easily personally observed in Nature in numerous cases of individual plant variations, preferred exposures, plant combinations, soil types, etc. Sticking to a circumscribed category makes garden mastery more attainable -- and natives comprise a category particularly accessible to the sort of study required for mastery.

2. The beauty of many native species and combinations is obvious. The study of that beauty and its potential is more accessible in a circumscribed area, where one can personally observe many specimens and landscape combinations in Nature.

3. Adaptability relates to beauty since well-adapted plants "perform well" -- they glow with health! The adaptability of native plants to their climate, soils and situations is apparent and easier to study in Nature so as to be better understood by the gardener. For a given plant or vegetation type one may personally observe various cases of exposures, etc. to get a better feel for its requirements -- exactly what it takes to get good results! Other people who make such studies -- or their published results -- are easier to find in or for a circumscribed area. Optimum conditions for a plant's health are generally easier to arrange when growing it in its native area. Selections for particular situations also can be conveniently made from native populations in Nature. For example: which plants do deer leave alone?

From the standpoint of plant choices that provide ease of cultivation and healthy growth, almost anywhere half or more of all the “best” plants will be local natives. They are among the most promising to attempt to cultivate.

4. Natives are especially handy for creating a comfortingly familiar and distinctive sense of place -- echoing or fitting into the larger landscapes of Nature roundabout -- or reproducing an historic natural landscape in the area of its native climate and soil. The sense of place created by the skillful use of native plants in a garden is both beautiful and meaningful.

5. Native plants serve a broad spectrum of native animal life -- creating good possibilities for a garden teeming with life -- "native critters need native plants"! Planting a native plant garden thus serves the greater ecological good while bringing more of the beauty and interest of animal life and movement into the garden. Observations from Nature can conveniently inform the garden-making process if animals are the interest in one's native plant garden!

6. Native plants have historical associations -- strong and numerous ties to the past of a circumscribed place -- their relationship to former inhabitants, human and animal. Native plants bring with them stories of their circumscribed area -- and who doesn't love a relevant story? History is layer of meaning well served by native plants.

Garden mastery is more attainable with plants accessible to one's observation in Nature. A familiarity with a plant's -- or a landscape's -- possibilities and requirements is more attainable with locally native plants. Growing a plant well is contingent upon understanding and fulfilling its needs. It is easier to understand and fulfill the needs of species and vegetation types one may observe in Nature in one's circumscribed area. Japanese gardens, so universally admired for their mastery, are a sub-set of native gardening -- created with plants native to their circumscribed area of the earth!

Native Annual Plants of San Francisco, notes for the nature gardener

Annual wildflowers complete their lifecycle in less than a year, usually germinating in the fall or winter, flowering in the winter, spring, or summer, and then setting seed and dying before the fall rains return. California poppies may live longer, but often are sold or treated as “annuals” in the garden because they come into bloom in their first year of growth.

Our native annuals are among the most neglected and under-used species for the garden, possibly because gardeners have wandered away from the pleasures of growing their own plants from seed. If you have never grown plants from seed, our native annuals are good ones to start with – and in almost any garden one can find room for at least a small planting, or even grow them in a container. Many annuals resent transplanting and are best grown from seed sown where they are to stand. Most can be grown in containers and transplanted at optimum stages of growth, but aren’t as adaptable as garden center six pack plants.

Some of the very most beautiful native wildflowers, such as sky lupine, ruby chalice clarkia, or tidy tips … are annuals. On the other hand, many native annual species bear flowers so small that they are not thought of much for gardening. Some native annuals are so small as to be frequently overlooked and thus neglected. A few, such as summer cottonweed, grow so quickly and are so coarse [often with rather small flowers as well] that they are considered “weeds” and are generally rejected by gardeners.

Annuals may be large, but many are small and some minute. Some of the smallest annuals -- plants of the lowest tier -- often produce much more food for wildlife [and livestock] than one may imagine. The amount and weight of seeds in comparison to the size of the plants – in such species as dwarf plantain or salt-marsh sand spurry, [or indeed, most annuals] -- has often amazed me when out seed-collecting. Often the excess of ripening seeds attracts diverse multitudes of small insects! They provide plenty of food for birds, too.

The dwarf or California plantain, one of the most common herbs in pristine California grasslands, produces a substantial crop of seeds:

Photograph by Margo Bors, Yerba Buena Chapter, California Native Plant Society

Many annuals prove valuable in the case of disturbances, such as fire or flood, which result in bare ground; their dormant seeds may then spring to life, carpeting the bare ground. Disturbances, large or small, are necessary or helpful for their reproduction and thus perpetuation. A true “ecological restoration” might well begin with a phase of creating a “seed bank” of native annuals to lie dormant until the inevitable disturbance; otherwise, future disturbances will result in thorough colonization of alien species.

For information about growing our native annuals in cultivation, I commend Judith Larner Lowry’s “Notes on Growing Wildflowers”, and Kevin Connolly’s Gardener’s Guide to California Wildflowers.

San Francisco’s native annual plants, listed by family:

Amaranthaceae, pigweed family
Amaranthus californicus, California amaranth
Amaranthus powellii

Apiaceae, parsley family
Apiastrum angustifolium, mock parsley
Bowlesia incana, bowlesia
Daucus pusillus, rattlesnake weed
Yabea microcarpa, bur-parsley

Asteraceae, sunflower family
Achyrachaena mollis, blow-wives.
Agoseris heterophylla, woodland agoseris
Aster subulatus var. ligulatus, slim aster
Bidens cernua var. cernua, nodding bur-marigold
Bidens laevis, bur-marigold
Blennosperma nanum, common blennosperma
Chamomilla occidentalis, valley pineapple weed
Cirsium brevistylum, Indian thistle
Filago californica, California cotton rose
Gnaphalium purpureum, purple cudweed
Gnaphalium stramineum, cotton-batting plant
Helenium puberulum, rosilla
Hemizonia congesta ssp. luzulifolia, white tarweed, hayfield tarweed
Hemizonia corymbosa, coast tarweed
Hemizonia kelloggii, Kellogg’s tarweed
Hesperevax sparsiflora, dwarf evax
Lasthenia californica, goldfields
Lasthenia glabrata, smooth lasthenia, saltmarsh goldfields
Lasthenia microglossa
Lasthenia minor, woolly lasthenia
Layia chrysanthemoides, smooth layia
Layia gaillardioides, woodland layia
Layia hieracioides, tall layia
Layia platyglossa, tidy-tips
Lessingia germanorum, San Francisco lessingia
Madia exigua, threadstem madia
Madia gracilis, slender tarweed, gum-weed
Madia sativa, coast tarweed
Micropus californicus, slender cottonweed
Microseris bigelovii
Microseris douglasii, silver puffs, Douglas’s microseris
Pentachaeta alsinoides, tiny chaetopappa
Psilocarphus tenellus, slender woolly-heads
Rafinesquia californica, California chicory
Stephanomeria virgata
Uropappus lindleyi, silver puffs
Xanthium spinosum, spiny clotbur
Xanthium strumarium, cockle bur

Boraginaceae, borage family
Amsinckia lycopsoides
Amsinckia menziesii var. intermedia, common fiddleneck
Amsinckia spectabilis, seaside amsinckia
Cryptantha flaccida, flaccid cryptantha
Cryptantha leiocarpa, coast cryptantha
Pectocarya penicillata, winged pectocarya
Plagiobothrys bracteatus, bracted popcornflower
Plagiobothrys chorisianus
Plagiobothrys stipitatus

Brassicaceae, mustard family
Athysanus pusillus, sandweed
Cardamine oligosperma, western bittercress. This native annual is a common “weed”.
Guillenia lasiophylla, California mustard
Lepidium densiflorum, common pepper grass
Lepidium nitidum, shining pepper-grass
Rorippa curvisiliqua, western yellow cress
Thysanocarpus curvipes, lace pod
Thysanocarpus laciniatus

Campanulaceae, bellflower family
Downingia concolor, fringed downingia
Githopsis specularioides, common bluecup
Heterocodon rariflorum, hetrocodon
Triodanis biflora, Venus looking-glass

Caryophyllaceae, pink family
Minuartia californica, California sandwort
Minuartia pusilla
Sagina apetala
, dwarf pearlwort
Sagina decumbens ssp. occidentalis, western pearlwort
Sagina maxima ssp. crassicaulis
Sagina procumbens, arctic pearlwort
Spergularia marina, salt-marsh sand spurry
Stellaria nitens, shining chickweed

Chenopodiaceae, goosefoot family
Atriplex joaquiniana, San Joaquin saltbush
Atriplex patula, spear oracle
Monolepis nuttalliana, poverty weed

Crassulaceae, stone crop family
Crassula aquatica, water pygmy
Crassula connata, sand pygmy

Elatinaceae, waterwort family
Elatine brachysperma, short-seeded waterwort

Euphorbiaceae, spurge family
Chamaesyce serpyllifolia, thyme-leaved spurge
Eremocarpus setigerus, turkey mullein
Euphorbia crenulata, Chinese caps
Euphorbia spathulata, reticulate-seeded spurge

Fabaceae, pea family
Astragalus gambelianus, Gambell’s dwarf locoweed
Astragalus tener, slender rattleweed
Lotus humistratus, short-podded trefoil, hill lotus
Lotus micranthus, small-flowered trefoil, miniature lotus
Lotus strigosus, strigose trefoil
Lotus wrangelianus, Chile trefoil
Lupinus bicolor, miniature lupine
Lupinus nanus, sky lupine. A beautiful wildflower, valued in cultivation. Likes sandy or gravelly soils.
Lupinus microcarpus, chick lupine
Lupinus succulentus, arroyo lupine. A bit coarse, but commonly cultivated. Good in clay soil.
Trifolium barbigerum, bearded clover, colony clover
Trifolium bifidum var. decipiens, notch-leaved clover
Trifolium fucatum, sour clover, bull clover
Trifolium gracilentum, pin-point clover
Trifolium macraei, MacRae’s clover
Trifolium microcephalum, maiden clover
Trifolium microdon, thimble clover, square-headed clover
Trifolium oliganthum, lanky clover
Trifolium variegatum, white-tipped clover
Trifolium wildenovii, tomcat clover
Vicia ludoviciana var. ludoviciana, slender vetch

Gentianaceae, gentian family
Centaurium muhlenbergii, Monterey centaury
Cicendia quadrangularis, timwort

Geraniaceae, geranium family
Geranium bicknellii
Geranium carolinianum, Carolina geranium

Hydrophyllaceae, waterleaf family
Nemophila heterophylla, white nemophila, vari-leaf nemophila
Nemophila menziesii, baby-blue eyes. Very commonly cultivated, showy, easy-to-grow wildflower.
Nemophila pedunculata, spreading nemophila, meadow nemophila
Phacelia ciliata, Chinese lantern phacelia, Great Valley phacelia
Phacelia distans, common phacelia
Phacelia douglasii
Phacelia malvifolia, stinging phacelia
Pholistoma auritum, purple fiesta flower. Easy-to-grow.

Hypericaceae, St. John’s wort family
Hypericum anagalloides, tinker’s penny

Juncaceae, rush family
Juncus bufonius, toad rush

Lamiaceae, mint family
Monardella undulata, curly-leaved monardella

Lemnaceae, duckweed family
Lemna gibba
Lemna minor
, smaller duckweed
Lemna minuta, least duckweed
Lemna trisulca, ivy-leaved duckweed
Lemna valdviana
Wolffiella lingulata
, mud-midget

Lilaeaceae, flowering quillwort family
Lilaea scilloides, flowering-quillwort

Linaceae, flax family
Hesperolinon congestum, Marin dwarf flax

Onagraceae, evening primrose family
Camissonia contorta
Camissonia micrantha
, sun-cup
Clarkia davyi
Clarkia franciscana
, Presidio clarkia
Clarkia purpurea, winecup clarkia
Clarkia purpurea ssp. quadrivulnera, four-spot
Clarkia rubicunda, ruby chalice clarkia
Epilobium brachycarpum, parched fireweed, summer cottonweed
Epilobium ciliatum subsp. ciliatum, common willow herb
Epilobium ciliatum subsp. watsonii, Watson’s willow herb
Epilobium minutum, minute willow herb
Epilobium densiflorum, dense-flowered boisduvalia

Papaveraceae, poppy family
Eschscholzia californica, California poppy. A commonly cultivated, easy-to-grow wildflower.
Meconella californica, California meconella
Meconella linearis, narrow-leaved meconella
Platystemon californicus, cream cups. Deserves to be cultivated more often.

Plantaginaceae, plantain family
Plantago erecta, dwarf plantain, California plantain

Poaceae, grass family
Deschampsia danthonoides, annual hairgrass. Native to moist depressions.
Hordeum depressum, low barley
Hordeum jubatum, tufted barley
Leptochloa fascicularis, bearded sprangletop
Phalaris lemmonii, Lemmon’s canary grass
Pleuropogon californicus, annual semaphore grass
Puccinellia simplex, annual alkali grass
Scribneria bolanderi, Scribner’s grass
Vulpia microstachys var. pauciflora, Pacific fescue
Vulpia octoflora, slender fescue

Polemoniaceae, phlox family
Collomia grandiflora, grand collomia, formerly more common in cultivation.
Collomia heterophylla, vari-leaf collomia
Gilia capitata ssp. chamissonis, dune gilia. Attractive wildflower in cultivation.
Gilia clivorum, grassland gilia
Linanthus grandiflorus, California phlox. Commonly cultivated, easy-to-grow wildflower.
Linanthus liniflorus, flax-flowered linanthus
Linanthus parviflorus, small-flowered linanthus
Navarretia squarrosa, skunkweed
Phlox gracilis, small annual phlox, slender phlox

Polygonaceae, buckwheat family
Chorizanthe cuspidata, San Francisco chorizanthe
Chorizanthe pungens, spineflower
Pterostegia drymarioides, pterostegia

Portulacaceae, purslane family
Calandrinia ciliata, red maids. Sometimes cultivated.
Claytonia perfoliata, miner’s lettuce. Grown for food.
Montia fontana, water chidkweed, blinks

Ranunculaceae, buttercup family
Myosurus minimus, common mouse tail
Ranunculus hebecarpus, downy buttercup

Rosaceae, rose family
Aphanes occidentalis, western lady’s mantle, dew cup

Rubiaceae, madder family
Galium aparine, goosegrass. “Perhaps native to Europe” – a cosmopolitan plant, hard to tell.

Scrophulariaceae, snapdragon family
Castilleja ambigua, johnny-nip
Castilleja attenuata, valley tassels
Castilleja densiflora, owl’s clover
Castilleja exserta, purple owl’s clover. A showy species.
Collinsia bartsiifolia, white Chinese houses
Collinsia corymbosa, round-headed Chinese houses
Collinsia heterophylla, Chinese houses. A showy and easy-to-grow wildflower.
Collinsia multicolor, San Francisco collinsia
Collinsia tinctoria, iodine collinsia
Cordylanthus maritimus, salt marsh bird’s beak
Cordylanthus mollis, soft bird’s beak
Limosella aquatica, northern mudwort
Linaria canadensis, blue toadflax
Mimulus guttatus, seep-spring monkeyflower. Easy, showy wildflower in a moist spot or pot.
Triphysaria eriantha, butter-and-eggs, johnny-tuck
Triphysaria eriantha ssp. rosea, popcorn beauty
Triphysaria floribunda, San Francisco owl’s clover.
Triphysaria pusilla, dwarf orthocarpus
Triphysaria versicolor ssp. versicolor, smooth orthocarpus
Veronica peregrina ssp. xalpensis, purslane speedwell, neckweed

Solanaceae, nightshade family
Nicotiana quadrivulneris, Indian tobacco

Urticaceae, nettle family
Hesperocnide tenella, western nettle

Valerianaceae, valerian family
Plectritis brachystemon, pink plectritis
Plectritis macrocera, rotund plectritis, short-spurred plectritis, white plectritis

Showy species in the trade: red maids, California poppy, cream cups, dove lupine, sky lupine, arroyo lupine, ruby chalice clarkia, dune gilia, California phlox, baby blue-eyes, Chinese houses, purple owl’s clover, purple fiesta flower, goldfields, saltmarsh goldfields, tidy-tips. Grand collomia is also in the trade.

Annuals for habitat value include the above plus: six-weeks fescue, spear oracle, miner’s lettuce, shining pepper-grass, pinpoint clover, maiden clover, tomcat clover, tinker’s penny, seep-spring monkeyflower, dwarf plantain, blow-wives, bur-marigold, and, really – any of the others you could get. Particularly good are the tarweeds (Hemizonia and Madia species), with somewhat oily nutritious seeds.

For shade: Chinese houses, miner’s lettuce [can take up to full sun; should have at least a few hours of sun or a bright shade situation.] Purple fiesta flower also can take some shade.

Meadow mix: red maids, California poppies, cream cups, dove lupine, sky lupine, arroyo lupine, ruby chalice clarkia, California phlox, baby-blue-eyes, Chinese houses, purple owl’s clover, goldfields, tidy-tips, miner’s lettuce, pinpoint clover, maiden clover, tomcat clover, white-tipped clover, dwarf plantain.

Sandy soil: California poppies, sky lupine, dove lupine, baby blue eyes, cream cups, dune gilia, purple owl’s clover, goldfields, tidy-tips, dwarf plantain.

Clayish soil: California poppies, arroyo lupine, dove lupine, saltmarsh goldfields, tidy-tips, California phlox, ruby chalice clarkia.

Moist areas: seep-spring monkeyflower, tinker’s penny, annual hairgrass, sour clover, fringed downingia, bur-marigold, rosilla, western yellow cress.

Glenn Keator recommends these combinations of common native annuals as attractive for gardens:

California poppy, creamcups, and baby-blue-eyes
California poppy, tidy-tips, and lupines
California poppy and goldfields
Chinese houses and clarkia


Flora of San Francisco

Theodore E. Niehaus/Charles L. Ripper, A Field Guide to Pacific States Wildflowers

John Hunter Thomas. Flora of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California

Mary L. Bowerman, The Flowering Plants and Ferns of Mt. Diablo, California

James C. Hickman, editor. The Jepson Manual, Higher Plants of California

Glenn Keator. Complete Garden Guide to the Native Perennials of California

Kevin Connelly. Gardener’s Guide to California Wildflowers

Judith Larner Lowry. “Notes on Growing Wildflowers”

Ruth Porter & Toni Corelli. “Vascular Plant List: Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve”

Friday, December 03, 2004

Wildlife garden planning tips: features and plants

Fresh water is essential for many creatures and providing it improves the habitat value of most gardens. A birdbath works well for the small garden: best is one of variable depth, much of it quite shallow, with a substrate that provides secure footing; dripping or other sound and movement is the best enhancement. A bare branch to hop to close by improves security, as does dense cover a few feet away, such as that of a thicket of wild roses.

For built-in water features, a little stream of very shallow moving water pleases small songbirds. When it comes to ponds, a natural bottom substrate, variable depths, and submerged, emergent and marginal plantings, especially of natives, enhance habitat values. So also does anything providing shelter or a perch under the water or near the water feature. If nothing else, even a small stick contrived to emerge from a pond or half barrel -- perhaps embedded in a can of pebbles -- provides a handy perch for a dragonfly.

A large standing snag or substantial downed wood cannot be beat for habitat value -- food and lodging for countless creatures -- though such may not be welcome in urban or suburban situations. Even in a bleak wasteland a properly constructed brush pile can provide "instant habitat". A compost pile is more acceptable in many neighborhoods and valuable in every way.

A rock pile or wall can be quite beautiful and quickly provides a home or way station for insects and lizards. Check out the artfully constructed rock pile in the backyard habitat demonstration at the San Francisco Zoo! Rock shelters and other constructed features are profitably discussed at length in Russell Link's Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest, which includes much that applies to the San Francisco Bay area.

Stepping stones, whether natural or of concrete, are useful in any garden. Small “paved” areas or walkways created with individual stones without mortar provide welcome retreats for many small creatures especially where they overlay friable soil or are bedded in sand. If large areas of stable pavement or substantial walkways are needed, consider pervious concrete, which allows water infiltration, and is convenient in that it doesn't puddle, even in heavy rain.

Artful placement of a few decorative rocks gives immediate structure to the garden and a place for butterflies and lizards to sun themselves. Small animals take cover or find or establish homes underneath and in crevices between artfully placed rocks. Wise use of rocks can immediately give a garden a “natural” feel. Study rock gardening!

Non-biodegradable weed fabric is the worst landscape feature for life in the garden! Please don’t use it, and especially not over large areas! It really gets in the way for many small creatures.

“Friable soil” is an important aspect of habitat quality that may be missing in urban or suburban settings, especially in new developments. Properly amended soils that are easy for you to dig in are easier for animal life to dig in – female lizards and turtles, for example, need friable soil to dig in to deposit their eggs for successful reproduction.

If you want a garden that teems with life, never "clean up" leaves or natural surface organic debris any more than you must. A surface “mulch” of whole, chipped or shredded leaves and branches is food and cover for microbes, worms and other invertebrates that “work” and “fertilize” the soil for you, as it helps the soil retain moisture and prevents many weeds from growing. Any weeds that do grow are easier to pull from the softer soil such a “mulch” engenders. Soil under a natural mulch, especially as it mulch decays and gets mixed into the soil by the worms, retains the balance of moisture with air needful for plant growth and lizard eggs. To foster life, “recycle” organic debris on your property as much as possible. Even a leaf pile in a corner helps. If you must clean up organic debris, please do it by hand: few things are more depressing to a biologist than barren soil scoured and hardened by "blower blight"!

For creating habitat a mixed planting that combines trees, shrubs, vines, ferns, grasses, and forbs -- perennials and annuals -- is usually best. Let natural vegetation serve as your model -- the greatest habitat value is embodied in gardens inspired and informed by the structure and composition of local plant communities. Context is crucial – aim to fit in ecologically to the surrounding neighborhood; its nature will determine what creatures are most likely to appear in your garden. If the garden abuts wild areas, large old vacant lots, or watercourses, especially streams with native vegetation, great are your prospects! Mature or ancient oaks in the neighborhood, or any other mature native woody plants are surely refugia for creatures that will find their way to your plantings! For a garden that ties in ecologically as well as artistically, include more specimens of those locally native species in your garden -- or complement them with their common associates or features of undisturbed native habitats, perhaps otherwise missing in your neighborhood. Provide the crucial missing "limiting factors" -- and thus allow otherwise extirpated species to survive or even thrive once again thanks to you!

Despair not if you must make your "habitat garden" in the midst of a vast wasteland of suburban plant junk with little value. Conspire to create a rich island for pollinators or a local “mall” for the neighborhood, or a “travel stop” for such creatures as may pass through. In urban areas, patches of richer habitat are a magnet for migrating or dispersing birds and other creatures.

Strive for a natural balance in your landscape composition. In natural vegetation usually a few of the relatively larger species of plants of the vegetation type dominate, creating a theme. There may be great diversity with the smaller species. In the typical “island” situation of the habitat garden, strive to provide enough resources from each species employed to enable it to be effective. For smaller flowering species the recommendation is to provide at least 16 square feet of plantings -- en masse or at least not spread over a wide area -- for a species so it can make enough of an impact to attract and support pollinating insects.

A variety of plant forms provide a variety of hiding places and other resources, as well as lending artistic interest. The smallest plants often provide a disproportionate amount of food and cover, so don’t neglect them! Don’t neglect vines! Vines clambering through other plants or over structures make excellent nesting cover for songbirds. Mature trees, especially those more than 30 or 40 years old, even if not native species, may contribute a lot to the structure of the habitat of the garden. Various creatures frequenting the neighborhood may have learned to use them, even if they aren’t native. In Davis neighborhoods, the seeds of mature deodar cedars feed flocks of red crossbills in the years when they irrupt from the north and out of the mountains, where they customarily forage in native conifers.

Plants from other parts of the world usually provide resources for a limited number of animals -- a few generalist species that in many cases are introduced organisms themselves. Some common non-native garden plants provide almost no resources for animal life. As a rule a far greater number of species of animals will make use of any species of native plant. Most are small invertebrates, often unnoticed, but essential as the basis of the vertebrate food chain. The smallest creatures also provide such significant ecological services as decomposition of dead plants and animals and their wastes, soil tilling and mixing, and the pollination of plants.

Many common “ornamental plants” have been bred to flower perpetually or for very long periods of time. Often they accomplish that mission by not producing pollen, nectar or seeds. Therefore they do not attract insects looking for nectar or pollen, nor do they produce seeds or fruits that may be eaten by anything. Their mere “color” value is at the price of animal life. A garden without the movement of insects and other creatures offers little interest for me! I gravitate to the garden that hums and teems with life! A good source of non-native – as well as native – flowering plants that do provide nectar and pollen is Annie’s Annuals.

Listed below are some of the particularly valuable native species for creating garden habitat in the San Francisco Bay area. Most are easy to grow and useful in garden design.


Coast live oak. Valley oak. California laurel. White alder. Hollyleaf cherry.
Coast redwood. Douglas fir. California nutmeg. Bristle-cone fir. Bishop pine. Gray pine.

Shrubs and vines:

Manzanitas. Quail bush. Coyote bush. Wild lilacs. Button willow. Western redbud. Virgin’s bower. Creek dogwood. Hazelnut. Douglas hawthorn. Bush monkeyflower. Flat-top buckwheat. Lizard tail. Golden yarrow. Coast silk-tassel. Salal. Golden fleece. Bush sunflower. Toyon. Creambush. California juniper. Pitcher sage. Hairy honeysuckle. Twinberry honeysuckle. Deerbroom lotus. White-leaf bush lupine. California holly grape. Bush mallow. Coyote mint. California wax myrtle. Osoberry. Red-flowered rock penstemon. Ninebark. Coffeeberry. Redberry. Western azalea. Squaw bush. Golden currant. Chaparral currant. Flowering currant. California gooseberry. California wild rose. Wood rose. Thimbleberry. Black sage. Blue elderberry. Red elderberry. Blue witch. Snowberry. California wild grape. Yerba de Selva. Wild fuchsia.


Nutka reed grass. California fescue. Red fescue. Vanilla grass. Deergrass. Berkeley sedge. Common rush. Single-leaf onion. Ithuriel’s spear. California pipe-vine. Hound’s tongue. Coffee fern. Western columbine. California buttercups. Meadowrue. Chain fern. Hooker evening primrose. Hummingbird fuchsia. Scarlet monkeyflower. Golden monkeyflower. Blue bedder penstemon. Figwort. Western bleeding heart. Elk clover. Douglas iris. Blue-eyed grass. Gold-eyed grass. Soap plant. Leopard lily. False Solomon’s seal. Common stonecrop. Common checkerbloom. Coyote mint. Hummingbird sage. Yerba buena. Coast woodmint. Wild morning glory. Bluff angelica. Foothill angelica. Yampah. Wormskjold’s clover. Bluff chickweed. Sea thrift. Leather fern. California poppy. Wild strawberry. Tinker’s penny. Common alumroot. Piggyback plant. Common sword fern. Yarrow. Pearly everlasting. Seaside daisy. Golden aster. Cobweb thistle. California sunflower. California goldenrod. Bluff goldenrod. Dog violet. Bolander’s phacelia. California phacelia.


Tansyleaf phacelia, lupines, globe gilias, clarkias, tidytips, goldfields.

Plants valued less by many gardeners but more by wildlife include: native willows, California buckeye, stinging nettle, poison oak, narrowleaf milkweed, western goldenrod, Douglas baccharis, common California aster, valley gumplant and miner’s lettuce.

These are among the favorite native plants I feel are practical to employ --

coast live oak, California laurel, hollyleaf cherry, manzanitas, wild lilacs, bush monkeyflower, flattop buckwheat, twinberry honeysuckle, hairy honeysuckle, California holly grape, California wax myrtle, coffeeberry, golden currant, chaparral currant, pink flowering currant, California gooseberry, California wild rose, toyon, creambush, thmbleberry, black sage, blue elderberry, red elderberry, creek dogwood, California fescue, deergrass, Berkeley sedge, common rush, single-leaf onion, hummingbird fuchsia, coyote mint, chain fern, western columbine, golden monkeyflower, figwort, soap plant, leopard lily, hummingbird sage, wild strawberry, common sword fern, yarrow, California goldenrod, seaside daisy, common stonecrop, Bolander’s phacelia, California phacelia, tansyleaf phacelia, globe gilia, clarkias, tidytips, California poppy.

Less “garden worthy” for current conventional tastes but extremely valuable for bringing in life are California buckeye, willows, narrowleaf milkweed and western goldenrod.

Most of these native plants are easy to cultivate. Using several to many plants of each species works best for providing significant wildlife habitat. Masses of one species of flowering plant attract insects effectively only if at least sixteen square feet in extent. In neighborhoods particularly barren of insect life, larger masses of flowers are particularly advisable – think “critical mass”!

Two more tips: "light pollution" and "noise pollution" adversely affect animal life. Natural darkness at night -- as close to it as we can contrive -- suits most animals. It is also true that some plants -- whose flowering is keyed to daylength -- never flower in areas brightly lit at night. Noise also severely interferes with animals -- lately biologists have noted that the mating calls of frogs and toads, especially, are less effective because of man's mechanical noises!